Every summer the entire Poll Everywhere team comes together for our annual company retreat/team-building. It’s an action-packed week when local and remote employees gather at an offsite location to reflect, focus, plan, and bond.
As the Poll Everywhere Office Manager (and general Jill-of-all-things-employee-engagement) this is one of my biggest opportunities of the year to reinforce and celebrate the culture we strive to live out in our every day work. Plus, with 1/3 of our employees working remotely, it’s essential time for us to get to know each other and bond as PollEvians. It helps us work better together the rest of the year.
This team-building kickoff was going to be the opening act of our retreat, and that made it a big factor in setting the tone. I knew we wanted a little friendly competition. I knew we at Poll Everywhere like to eat. And I knew we like to make things. So a cook-off contest was a natural choice to get this team fired up!
To save a little bit of time for my fellow Office Managers, Culture Gurus, Event Planners, Retreat Organizers, and anyone with a drive to build happy and productive teams, I put together this guide. You’ll find all the resources I created as well as some tips for how to run your own team bonding competition.
The key to a team event like this one is careful planning, and of course an amazing team polling software (shameless plug alert). Good planning is necessary for both smooth logistics, and also for the credibility of the competition itself. The rules matter, especially if you have loophole-lovers and fairness fanatics like we have. No one wants to slave away in the kitchen for three hours and then feel their tri-tip didn’t get a fair shot at the gold.
Here’s an overview of the steps to prepare for the big day (details follow):
- Determine the cook-off challenge, and the size and number of teams.
- Set a budget: venue, provided supplies, team grocery budget, maybe a few catered sides.
- Outline competition schedule and set the rules.
- Create survey polls for judging, and determine awards.
- Put out a call for team signups, providing everyone with all the competition information.
1. Determine the cook-off challenge and size of teams
It’s important to be clear about the goals of putting on this event. These were my requirements:
- Measurable competition that’ll feed 45 hungry people
- Works as a kick-off activity for a company retreat
- Serves as an engaging, welcoming bonding activity for a group that has not been together in months
- Suitable to all dietary restrictions (e.g. includes a vegetarian option)
I determined a kebab BBQ challenge would be the perfect fit for all of my requirements. Based on having 6 teams of 4-5 people (top chef, sous chefs, shoppers, and cleaners), I calculated each team would need to make 50 skewered, 6-inch kebabs for everyone to taste and eat by dinner time. The teams could choose from an endless selection of proteins, they could do it all in under two hours, and it would be vegetarian-friendly too. Actually, did I just trick them into cooking their own dinners? Yes, I did.
In order to let the teams focus on the fun part, I ordered sides and dessert from the venue. That turned the competition into a complete, well-rounded dinner.
2. Set a budget and venue
Once you’ve determined what equipment and tools your venue can supply, make a list of items you’ll need to provide. In our case, grills were provided by the venue, but we had to buy enough cooking utensils and serving supplies for all the teams. Leftover budget determines the teams’ shopping budget.
3. Rules, rules, rules!
My PollEvians love to see how much they can get away with, which is why I have to set very specific rules, to stay a step ahead of them. I pulled in my handy, rule-enforcer coworker to make sure we covered all loopholes. Here are the 10 rules we came up with for our contest, and the schedule for each part of the competition– that was my way of making sure dinner would be served on time.
4. Polls & awards
We picked nine award categories the teams could compete for. Then I created my Cook-off Survey for judging. You can copy our Cook-Off Survey template into your Poll Everywhere account below. Once it’s in your Poll Everywhere account, you can change and customize at will. When you’re ready for your audience to vote, announce or send the survey link to tasters so they can cast their votes.
We got these 1st place blue ribbons here, and added our own custom buttons to make awesome awards. They were highly coveted.
5. Ready, set, send email!
Now you’re ready to put out a call for team signups. Provide them with all of the contest information. Some tips for encouraging participation… Put the signup sheet in a visible place– online or on paper– and make loud announcements about each of the competitors when they throw their hats (or BBQ tongs) in the ring. This spurs one-upmanship, which can be pretty galvanizing. If things are slow, you can also approach people individually to recruit them, and get the ball rolling from there.
Day of the competition
At noon on the dot, the teams checked in to collect their budget to start their grocery shopping. Then we were off to the venue.
Once we were checked into our cots and trailers at the venue, six PollEvian Top Chefs and their teams swarmed the kitchen and patios, and started to create the most glorious messes of all time.
There was chopping, marinating, aerating, slicing, mixing, blending, grilling, skewering… Magic, my friends.
Once the last round of kebabs was served, I asked everyone to pull out their phones and go to my voting page at pollev.com/cookoff.
I logged into My Polls and watched responses roll in. When everyone had voted, I needed an easy way to visualize the winners of all nine categories. So I selected the whole survey, created an Executive Summary report, and took a glance.
It was all there. Snapshots, winners (in bold), vote counts. I was able to announce winners and award the prizes less than a minute after voting ended, reading off results from the report as I moved through the categories. It was silly-easy.
Tweet us @polleverywhere if you run a contest using Poll Everywhere, or want to hear more about one of our other team-building activities. We have a long history of (in)famously successful bonding rituals– like life-size beer pong catapults, cardboard boat river racing, spy games, sand castle building, and snowball-launcher-turned-jumbo-selfie-stick to just name a few. These are the stories our new hires hear about. It’s a great way to bond as a team, and ultimately it means we work better together, all year long.